Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

FINISH WAS THISCLOSE; Hamlin Nips Truex in Blur of a Final Lap

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

FINISH WAS THISCLOSE; Hamlin Nips Truex in Blur of a Final Lap

Article excerpt

Byline: Don Coble

DAYTONA BEACH | The only regret for Denny Hamlin Sunday at the Daytona International Speedway was that he forgot to record the Daytona 500. He was hoping a re-run would show how he beat Martin Truex Jr. by inches in a photo finish.

"I don't remember it honestly," he said after giving car owner Joe Gibbs his first 500 victory since 1993. "I don't know what happened. I can't even figure out what I did, but it all just came together."

The last thing Hamlin remembered was going down the backstretch in fourth place on the final lap. He saw Kevin Harvick making a big charge against the outside wall, so he pulled over to block him to provide cover for his teammate, race leader Matt Kenseth.

That's when it all became a blur.

Harvick maintained his attack eventually pushing Hamlin to Kenseth's back bumper and that's when Martin Truex Jr. dropped to the inside to make his own run for the victory.

Hamlin went to the middle.

Truex stayed low.

Kenseth lost his momentum after nearly hitting the wall and limped to a 14th-place finish.

After that, Hamlin and Truex ran side-by-side for the final half-mile until Hamlin finally surged ahead in the final 20 feet to win by less than six inches.

Neither driver knew who won. Both tried to see one of the scoring pylons or big screen televisions for an answer.

Replays offered proof: Hamlin by a nose. Officially, one-hundredth of a second for the closest finish in 500 history.

"You want to win the tight ones," the winner said. "That's what makes them special. It wouldn't be fun - well it would be fun to win by a lap. But it's, like, storybook. You make a pass on the last corner of the last lap of the Daytona 500. That's what makes it so cool."

"You'd rather get beat by a few feet than four inches, absolutely," Truex said.

The Toyota tandem of JGR cars for Hamlin, Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch and Truex from Furniture Row Racing spent most of the race at the front. In the closing laps, it became increasingly probable one of them was going to win. So when Harvick tried to get his Chevrolet in the middle of it, Hamlin got in his way.

Although a Chevrolet actually propelled Hamlin to the win, counting Busch's third-place finish, it wound up being the top-three sweep many expected.

Hamlin insisted he had no plans trying to go from fourth-to-the lead on the final lap.

"I mean, I'm sitting there and I'm thinking at three to go, if it wasn't my teammates, I'd be making a move right now," Hamlin said. "Two to go, if it wasn't my teammates, I'd make a move right now.

"I can't sit here and preach about teamwork through text messaging to all the crew chiefs and the drivers, 'Hey, guys, stick together, stick together.' You can't do that and then at the last minute screw it all up and somebody else win the race. …

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